But weight-conscious people should heed the humble rat, which stays trim by instinctively cutting calories when indulging in alcoholic drinks, say researchers at the University of Florida's psychology department and the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute.
Rats also know how to say no to the brew, stopping at what would amount to two or three drinks in most people, according to a paper in the current issue of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. Many people ignore the same instinct -- a shortcoming that can spell dietary disaster.
"Behavior in humans is complicated because we are bombarded by social and marketing factors that stick food in front of our face every which way we turn," said Neil Rowland, a professor of psychology who studies the neural mechanisms of obesity, eating disorders and alcohol abuse. "It's difficult to say no."
People cannot simply cut food calories while they're drinking without also considering the effect it will have on their sobriety, researchers caution. But it's also important that they consider the effect that drinking has on their waistlines.
An estimated 65 percent of U.S. adults and 16 percent of children and adolescents are either overweight or obese, according to the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Furthermore, a CDC analysis shows Americans consume more calories than they did 30 years ago. On average, women increased their daily calorie consumption 22 percent between 1971 and 2000, from 1,542 calories per day to 1,877 calories. During the same period, men increased their calorie intake 7 percent, from 2,450 calories per day to 2,618 calories.